Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When The Joy of God Seems Far Away, Remember His Promises!

I was asked the other day what preachers, teachers or writers have impacted me the most, my mind rushed with so many names. Classic theologians such as Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, E.W Bullinger and John Bunyan first came to mind, along with more recent men of God such as A.W. Tozer, John Piper and N.T. Wright. Each of these men are or were completely different from each other, but reading their works grabbed me by the nape and drove home a particular message God wanted me to receive.

As I was perusing the Internet recently, I came across a sermon Charles Spurgeon delivered on Lord's-day, Morning, September 17th, 1871, by C. H. SPURGEON, At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. I obviously needed to hear this message because like other great works, it drove home a point I need to receive at that precise moment. It dealt with a situation that many servants of God experience, that feeling that our joy in the Lord does not feel as powerful as it was in the past, especially during that season when we first met Jesus and experienced His amazing love, grace and salvation. Maybe it impacted me more so due to the increasing pain of an aging body, but mostly due to the sorrow caused by the feeling of helplessness I'm experiencing in my heart due to the rampant and blatant sinfulness and the moral declination we see growing exponentially throughout the world.

Spurgeon’s sermon drove a spear of God's assurance deeply into my heart that reminded me that when our joy is low, we must needs remember His promises. Following is that sermon; hopefully it will be a source of comfort and edification for you as well.

"Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness; as I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle."-Job 29:2,3,4.
IF Job here refers to the temporal prosperity which he had lost, we cannot condemn him for his complaint, neither can we commend him. It is but the expression of a natural regret, which would be felt by any man who had experienced such great reverses. But there is everywhere in the expressions which he uses such a strain of spirituality, that we are inclined to believe that he had more reference to the condition of his heart than to the state of his property. His soul was depressed; he had lost the light of God's countenance; his inward comforts were declining, his joy in the Lord was at a low ebb, this he regretted far more than anything besides. No doubt he deplored the departure of those prosperous days when, as he words it, his root was spread out by the waters, and the dew lay all night upon his branch; but, much more did he bemoan that the lamp of the Lord no more shone upon his head, and the secret of God was not upon his tabernacle. As his spiritual regrets are far more instructive to us than his natural ones, we will turn all our attention to them. 
We may, without violence, appropriate Job's words to ourselves; for I fear that many of us can with great propriety take up our wailing and mourn for the days of our espousals, the happy days of our first love. I shall have to trouble you with many divisions this morning; but I shall be brief upon each one, and I hope that our thoughts may be led onward, and rendered practically serviceable to us, by the blessing of God's Spirit.
I. Let us begin by saying, that regrets such as those expressed in the text are and ought to be very BITTER. If it be the loss of spiritual things that we regret, then may we say from the bottom of our hearts, "Oh that I were as in months past."

It is a great thing for a man to be near to God; it is a very choice privilege to be admitted into the inner circle of communion, and to become God's familiar friend. Great as the privilege is, so great is the loss of it. No darkness is so dark as that which falls on eyes accustomed to the light. The poor man who was always poor is scarcely poor, but he who has fallen from the summit of greatness into the depths of poverty is poor indeed. The man who has never enjoyed communion with God knows nothing of what it must be to lose it; but he who has once been pressed upon the Savior's bosom will mourn, as long as he liveth, if he be deprived of the sacred enjoyment. The mercies which Job deplored in our text are no little ones. First, he complains that he had lost the consciousness of divine preservation. He says, "Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me." There are days with Christians when they can see God's hand all around them, checking them in the first approaches of sin, and setting a hedge about all their ways. Their conscience is tender, and the Spirit of God is obeyed by them; they are, therefore, kept in all their ways, the angels of God watching over them, lest they dash their foot against a stone. 
But when they fall into laxity of spirit, and walk at a distance from God, they are not so preserved. Though kept from final and total apostasy, yet they are not kept from very grievous sin; for, like Peter who followed afar off, they may be left to deny their Master, even with oaths and cursings. If we have lost that conscious preservation of God, which once covered us from every fiery dart; if we no longer abide under the shadow of the Almighty, and feel no longer that his truth is our shield and buckler, we have lost a joy worth worlds, and we may well deplore it with anguish of heart.

Job had also lost divine consolation, for he looks back with lamentation to the time when God's candle shone upon his head, when the sun of God's love was as it were in the zenith, and cast no shadow; when he rejoiced without ceasing, and triumphed from morning to night in the God of his salvation. The joy of the Lord is our strength, the joy of the Lord is Israel's excellency; it is the heaven of heaven, it is heaven even upon earth; and, consequently, to lose it, is a calamity indeed. Who that has once been satisfied with favor, and full of the blessing of the Lord, will be content to go into the dry and thirsty land, and live far off from God? Will he not rather cry out with David, "My soul thirsteth for God; when shall I come and appear before God?" Surely his agonising prayer will be, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit." Love to God will never be content if his face be hidden. Until the curtain be drawn aside and the King's face be seen through the lattices, the true spouse will spend her life in sighing; mourning like a dove bereaved of its mate.
Moreover, Job deplored the loss of divine illumination. "By his light," he says, "I walked through darkness," that is to say, perplexity ceased to be perplexity; God shed such a light upon the mysteries of providence, that where others missed their path, Job, made wise by heaven, could find it. There have been times when, to our patient faith, all things have been plain. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine;" but, if we walk far off from God, then, straightway, even the precious truth of God is no more clear to us, and the dealings of God with us in providence appear to be like a maze. He is wise as Solomon who walks with God, but he is a very fool who trusts his own understanding. All the wit that we have gathered by observation and experience will not supply us with sufficiency of common sense, if we turn away from God. Israel, without consulting God, made a league with her enemies; she thought the case most plain when she entered into hasty alliance with the Gibeonites, but she was duped by cunning because she asked not counsel of the Lord. In the simplest business we shall err, if we seek not direction from the Lord; yet, where matters are most complicated, we shall walk wisely, if we wait for a voice from the oracle, and seek the good Shepherd's guidance. We may bitterly lament, therefore, if we have lost the Holy Spirit's light. If now the Lord answereth us not, neither by his word, nor by his providence, if we wander alone, crying Oh that I knew where I might find him, we are in an evil case, and may well sigh for the days, when by his light we walked through darkness.
Moreover, Job had lost divine communion: so it seems, for he mourned the days of his youth, when the secret of God was upon his tabernacle. Who shall tell to another what the secret of God is? Believing hearts know it, but they cannot frame to pronounce aright the words that could explain it, nor can they convey by language what the secret is. The Lord manifests himself unto his people as he doth not unto the world. We could not tell the love passages that there are between believers and their Lord; even when they are set to such sweet music as the Song of Solomon, carnal minds cannot discern their delights. They cannot plough with our heifer, and therefore they read not our riddle. As Paul in heaven saw things which it were unlawful for a man to utter, so the believer sees and enjoys in communion with Christ what it would not only be unlawful but impossible for him to tell to carnal men. Such pearls are not for swine. The spiritual discerneth all things, but he himself is discerned of no man. Now, it is a high privilege, beyond all privileges, to enter into familiar intercourse with the Most High, and the man who has once possessed it, and has lost it, has a bitterer cause for regret than if, being rich, he had lost his wealth; or being famous, he had lost esteem; or being in health, he were suddenly brought to the bed of languishing. No loss can equal the loss of thee, my God! No eclipse is so black as the hiding of thy face! No storm is so fierce as the letting forth of thine indignation! It is grief upon grief to find that thou art not with me as in the days of old. Wherever, then, these regrets do exist, if the men's hearts are as they should be, they are not mere hypocritical or superficial expressions, but they express the bitterest experiences of our human existence. "Oh that I were as in months past" is no sentimental sigh, but the voice of the innermost spirit in anguish, as one who has lost his firstborn.
II. But, secondly, let me remind you that these regrets are NOT INEVITABLE; that is to say, it is not absolutely necessary that a Christian man should ever feel them, or be compelled to express them. It has grown to be a tradition among us, that every Christian must backslide in a measure, and that growth in grace cannot be unbrokenly sustained. It is regarded by many as a law of nature, that our first love must grow cold, and our early zeal must necessarily decline. I do not believe it for a moment. 
"The path of the just is us the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day;" and were we watchful and careful to live near to God, there is no reason why our spiritual life should not continuously make progress both in strength and beauty. There is no inherent necessity in the divine life itself compelling it to decline, for is it not written, "It shall be in him a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life;" "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." Grace is a living and incorruptible seed that liveth and abideth for ever, and there is nowhere impressed upon the divine life a law of pining and decay. If we do falter and faint in the onward path, it is our sin, and it is doubly sinful to forge excuses for it. It is not to be laid upon the back of some mysterious necessity of the new nature that it should be so, but it is to be brought as a charge against ourselves. Nor do outward circumstances ever furnish a justification to us if we decline in grace; for, under the worst conditions, believers have grown in grace: deprived of the joys of Christian fellowship, and denied the comforts of the means of grace, believers have nevertheless been known to attain to a high-degree of likeness to Christ Jesus: thrown into the midst of wicked companions, and forced to hear, like righteous Lot, the filthy conversation of the ungodly, yet Christian men have shone all the brighter for the surrounding darkness, and have been able to escape from a wicked and perverse generation. Certain is it, that a man may be an eminent Christian, and be among the poorest of the poor: poverty need not, therefore, make us depart from God; and, it is equally certain, that a man may be rich, and for all that may walk with God and be distinguished for great grace. There is no lawful position of which we may say, "It compels a man to decline in grace."
And, brethren, there is no period of our life in which it is necessary for us to go back. The young Christian, with all the strength of his natural passions, can by grace be strong and overcome the Wicked One; the Christian in middle life, surrounded with the world's cares, can prove that "this is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith." The man immersed in business may still be baptised of the Holy Ghost. Assuredly, old age offers no excuse for decline: "they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; to show that the Lord is upright." No, brethren as Christ said to his disciples, when they would fain have sent the multitude away to buy meat, "they need not depart;" so would he say to the whole company of the Lord's people, "ye need not depart;" there is no compulsion for decline in grace." Your sun need not stand still, your moon need not wane. If you cannot add a cubit to your spiritual stature, at any rate, it need not decrease. There are no reasons written in the book of your spiritual nature why you, as a believer, should lose fellowship with God, and, if you do so, take blame and shame to yourself, but do not ascribe it to necessity. 
Do not gratify your corruptions by supposing that they are licensed to prevail occasionally, neither vex your graces by conceiving that they are doomed to inevitable defeat at a certain season. The spirit that is in us lusteth to evil, but the Holy Spirit is able to subdue it, and will subdue it, if we yield ourselves to him.”

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1 comment:

  1. Maybe if we in the "free world" had to endure what Job in the Old Testament had to endure, we wouldn't think that what we have now is so bad. Thanks for the great message in this article and the illustrations are a good addition too. God bless. Rita